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In the wake of war, Georgia adds “military patriotism” to the curriculum. Part two of a series.
by Tamar Kikacheishvili 16 March 2010
This is the second in a series of articles on the challenges to education in post-conflict societies.
In mid-January, Nona Mikiashvili found out that her 11-year-old son, Lasha, would begin studying something the authorities here are calling military patriotism in the fall.
Lasha was excited at the prospect that he might get to handle a weapon, but his mother had doubts. “I don’t object to a military course if it includes emergency situations, but it should never be mandatory for all students,” she said. “As for patriotism, it’s impossible to teach at school. I’m really curious how they’re going to teach it. What will they do? Telling students that we [Georgians] are the best, only to have them find out differently later in life, it might cause problems.”
Lasha also does not know what to expect from the new lessons in patriotism. He understands that a patriot loves his country, he said, but “Can someone teach you how to love?” he wondered.
President Mikheil Saakashvili’s announcement about mandatory military patriotism courses in public schools came about a year and a half after the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Presidential spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze said military-patriotic education, part of a package of proposals by Saakashvili and Education Minister Dimitry Shashkin, would include training in civil defense and cultivating a martial spirit, “which historically was always in the nature of the Georgian people.”
MODERNIZING AN OLD IDEA
The ministry is still working on the curriculum for the course. Natia Jokhadze, director of the National Curriculum and Assessment Center, said the new curriculum will be ready by the fall and classes will start in the upcoming school year. She said military patriotism classes will be taught at every grade level and they will include civic participation, civil defense, and emergency situations.
The announcement of the course has raised fears about the possible militarization of the country’s schools and questions about how patriotism will be defined.
David Zurabishvili, one of the leaders of the nonparliamentary opposition Republican Party of Georgia, said the inclusion of civil defense is simply to give a pretty shape to an ugly idea. “The president announced it, and now the Ministry of Education is trying to figure out how to soft-pedal it to our society. This initiative amounts to militarization, and the idea that everyone must be a militant is the wrong approach,” Zurabishvili said.
Saakashvili was not the first to broach the idea of patriotism classes. In November, Irakli Aladashvili, editor in chief of the military magazine Arsenali, said military education should be taught in public schools. “I think that the upbringing of the motherland’s defenders should start at the school desk,” Aladashvili said, calling for classes in civil defense, first aid, and, optionally, weaponry.
In light of Georgia’s recent experience with military conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Aladashvili said its citizens should be able to defend themselves. “We shouldn’t be compared with other countries that never experienced war. We had wars within the country as well as in the Caucasus region. I covered the war in Chechnya as well. And I think that Georgian students should study military patriotism,” Aladashvili said.
In the Soviet era students were given military lessons, and some countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States still have the subject in their curricula. The textbook for those classes typically included praise for the Communist Party and its ideology. Aladashvili said it would be key that the new classes should not be used to indoctrinate students. “I think politics should not have any place in this modern military patriotism course. It should just be about patriotic souls.”
PATRIOTISM WITHOUT MILITARISM?
Confused parents are not the only ones uneasy about the new courses. Some opposition politicians say it’s a distraction from Tbilisi’s bungling confrontation with Russia. “The Georgian government wants to replace people’s disappointment with a sense of patriotism. They’re just trying to cover up their mistakes and the pain of a lost war with this new initiative,” said Guguli Magradze, leader of the Women’s Party, a member of the opposition Alliance for Georgia.
Better to offer peace education in schools given Georgia’s recent history, Magradze said.
“Peace is the only thing that would give Georgia a chance to take its normal place on the geopolitical map of the world,” Magradze said.
More perniciously, Magradze said, the authorities are hoping to cultivate a more pliable citizenry with such courses. “This subject is in the interests of the ruling party, for the purposes of having obedient citizens who obey the dictates of authority. They want slaves. This idea should cause protest in our society,” she said.
Tamar Chabashvili, principal of a secondary school in central Tbilisi, disagrees.
Calling the new courses “extremely necessary,” Chabashvili said the project would help bring up a new generation of patriots and active citizens. “I think that this subject should include the history and present of the country, including the battles that Georgia had in Abkhazia and the war that happened last year in South Ossetia. It must be a mandatory subject,” she said.
Pavle Tvaliashvili, a consultant on education management and reform at the private Center for Training and Consultancy in Tbilisi, said a course that teaches students how to behave in emergencies would be welcome. Nor would he have a problem with a course that aims to instill patriotism.
“I think that patriotism should be used to teach the important values of mankind such as peace, responsibility, freedom, love. … In my opinion, it’s wrong to kill others. However, sometimes when someone attacks you, you must be ready to defend yourself,” Tvaliashvili said.
Psychologist Gaga Nizharadze, who has written extensively about post-Soviet culture and behavior, said he fears the courses could fuel an increase in violence or bullying among students. Nizharadze said patriotism cannot be taught in a classroom. “Patriotism is not a subject, it’s a personal characteristic and that’s why it’s impossible to have separate lessons in it and to teach it this way,” he said.
Nizharadze said the decision to give elementary school students military courses suggests that the country’s priority has become militarization.
“Actually I’m against teaching patriotism or any other ideology at school. The only ideology in a democratic country should be that all ideologies are equal,” Nizharadze said.